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A Tale of Two (Lightning) Teams

Photo: Alex Walworth, The Scrum Sports

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. The Tampa Bay Lightning took to the road for a 4-game stint. Heading into it, they were sporting a dismal 0-2-1 road record. But, following a 3-0-2 homestand, maybe the Bolts were starting to get it together? Maybe we’d see a different team this road trip? In fact, what we saw this road trip was like 2 completely different Tampa Bay Lightning teams!

The Good Tampa Bay Lightning

The Tampa Bay Lightning had some amazing moments on this trip!

First periods. The Lightning started off each of the 4 road games with a good first period. In the last two matchups, that first period was absolutely dominant. Against Toronto on Monday, the Bolts took a 4-1 lead to the dressing room after 20 minutes. The following night, they took a 4-0 lead to the dressing room of the Bell Centre in Montreal after 20. In both cases, the fourth goal had spelled the end for their opponent’s starting goaltender.

Nikita Kucherov. Kucherov finished the 4-game road trip with a total of 11 points (all in the final 3 games). He followed up a 5-point night in Ottawa on Saturday night with a 4-point first period against Toronto on Monday. These 11 points doubled Kucherov’s season total and catapulted him into first place in the league for total points. He is tied for second in goals with 10 and for third in assists with 12.

Victor Hedman. Our Swedish star defenseman notched 7 points in the final 3 games of the road trip. He scored 2 goals and tallied 5 assists in that span. The 5 assists bring him to a total of 12 on the season and a tie for 2nd place overall in the league.

Special Teams. The Lightning penalty kill unit came up big when needed at crucial points in the game. Overall, they finished out the road trip will a 15 penalty kills out of 17 opportunities for a rate of 88.24 percent. On the power play, the Bolts scored 5 goals in 14 total opportunities for a percentage of 35.71. After going 0-3 on the power play in Columbus, they scored all 5 of their goals on the final 11 chances of the trip for a rate of 45.45 percent.

Matt Tomkins. How nice was it to see this guy get his first NHL win last night at the age of 29 after all his struggles to reach this point?

The Bad Tampa Bay Lightning

With all the good things the Bolts managed to accomplish on this road trip, one might think that they had come out of it with a perfect record. Alas, there were negatives.

Inability to sustain pressure. In each of their last 3 games, the Lightning managed to chase their opponent’s starting netminder by early in the second period. But on all 3 occasions, they struggled to generate offense against the incoming goaltender. Toronto’s Joseph Woll took the net in place of Ilya Samsonov at 15:31 of the first period. The Bolts did not score again until the 17:34 mark of the third period when Brandon Hagel’s shot trickled past Woll. Last night, in Montreal, Sam Montembeault came in to relieve Jake Allen at 13:50 of the first period. The Lightning did not score on Montembeault until 17:40 of the third period.

Mikhail Sergachev. Sorry, but it was a rough road trip for Sergachev. He did notch 2 assists over the 4 games, but he got beaten on too many opposing chances. His plus-minus ended up at minus 1 in 3 of the 4 games and a 0 in the other, for an overall minus 3 on the trip. For our top earning defenseman, this is not acceptable. Many of his mistakes were at critical times where he seemed to be completely off his game- like in overtime against Toronto.

The Ugly Tampa Bay Lightning

There were a few times on this road trip where the Tampa Bay Lightning were downright ugly.

Overtime. Thankfully for the Bolts, only one of the games on this trip needed an extra 5 minutes. The Lightning’s abysmal performance in overtime continued. They have now lost all 4 of their 3-on-3 overtime games this season. But it’s not just about losing. It’s the fact that they cannot seem to touch the puck during the extra frame! They have been outshot 14-0 in OT this season. Going back to last season, they have dropped their last 7 consecutive 3-on-3 overtime games. Figure in their 3 playoff (not 3-on-3 style) overtime losses to Toronto last season, and that’s 10 straight OT losses!

Inability to hold a lead and play a full 60-minute game. The Bolts took a lead into the third period of each of the four games on this road trip. Yet, they finished just 2-1-1. Against Columbus, the Lightning played a strong second period and held a 2-1 lead over the Blue Jackets to start the third. But they looked flat in the final frame as Columbus scored 2 just under 3 minutes apart before the midway point of the period to take the lead. In Ottawa, the Bolts took a 4-1 lead into the 3rd period. Ottawa scored quickly to pull within 2. There were some twists and turns as the teams combined for 5 goals that period- 3 by the Senators. But the Bolts did hang on. Then came Toronto. The Lightning held a 4-1 lead after one and then just seemed to fold. Auston Matthews and company made it 4-3 before the 2nd period was even 6 minutes old. And then in the 3rd, the Leafs scored 2 goals just 8 seconds apart to take the lead 2 minutes in. The Lightning did manage to tie that one late and send it to overtime. But then… (see above). Last night, in Montreal, the Bolts took a 4-0 lead into the 3rd. Goals 34 seconds apart at 6:50 and 7:24 cut the Lightning lead in half at 4-2. Bolts fans were starting to think it might be déjà vu all over again! Although our beloved boys in blue did hold on for a 5-3 final, there certainly were some tense moments!

The Tale of Two Tampa Bay Lightnings Summed Up

The road trip truly combined some of the best and the worst of times for the Bolts. In all, they finished it up with a 2-1-1 record, earning 5 of a possible 8 points. They currently sit at a respectable 16 points (6-3-4) in second place in the Atlantic division. Just think where they could be if they could buckle down to hold leads… or figure out how to touch the puck in overtime. If this early road trip is any indication, there is a ton of potential with this year’s Lightning. And if the boys can keep up the good habits and rein in some of the problem issues, then the very best of times could truly lie ahead for them this season.

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